For decades they were part of a unique house: two vintage Charleston trolley cars that were joined in 1938 to form a single-family home in West Ashley.

But now they are sitting in the open on a Neck Area construction field, exposed to the elements and a repeated target of vandals.

What began as an effort to save the trolleys for posterity has slowed while their owners with the Magnolia Development LLC search for someone to take on their restoration.

At first, the cars were kept inside a warehouse. That covering since has been demolished as Magnolia, a privately financed redevelopment of 216 acres of former industrial land along the Ashley River, cleared the land in preparation for environmental cleanup.

Officials tried to protect the two trolleys by wrapping them in plastic, a chore that costs $4,500 each time. But on an estimated three occasions, vandals sliced through the wrap cover, a spokesman said. The trolleys were moved outdoors in 2008.

The cars have an odd history. In 1938, the electric street trolleys had stopped running in downtown Charleston, and local man Jake Varner spotted the cars in a storage shed. He decided to join the two parts together under a single roof, added a porch and moved in. The space was tight since each car measured only about 280 square feet.

As Varner and his wife built their family, they later opted to move to a bigger home. But the trolley car house, formerly at 13 Apollo Road, survived in a quiet neighborhood off Savannah Highway. It was sold in December 2005 for $40,000 under the hopes of restoring the cars to their former glory and finding a use for them again.

One thought that surfaced at the time was to use rail lines run from the North Charleston Magnolia property to downtown Charleston for a trolley run or light-rail service. Plans for Magnolia call for a new urban neighborhood with shops, offices, hotels and up to 4,400 homes, mostly as multi-family units. It its expected to take years to complete.

Magnolia spokesman Jonathan Scott said the cars were "really in bad shape" when the company acquired them. The goal now is to find a permanent home and someone willing to take on the expensive cost of restoration. A trolley preservation group has shown interest, he said, declining to say which one.

Meanwhile, Scott said it has become cost-prohibitive to keep re-wrapping the cars in plastic or to move them from their current site in the Neck.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at skropf@postandcourier.com or 937-5551.